The humanitarian crisis has pushed the Lebanese to an unprecedented level of poverty. According to the UN, 78 percent of Lebanon’s population live below the poverty line, making it one of the most deprived countries in the world. It hosts more than 1.7 million refugees, which is the highest per capita population of refugees in the world.
Shortly before Monday’s Independence Day celebrations, the Lebanese Navy rescued a distressed boat carrying about 90 desperate migrants who were trying to reach the shores of Cyprus. And, last week, local security forces raided a beach and thwarted another attempt to illegally cross by sea from Lebanon to Europe, according to various press reports. Smugglers charging more than $5,000 per person are an example of how misery and despair become traded commodities in the search for a better life.
Another alarming fact is that, according to UNICEF, children are skipping meals in the majority of families. It is always the same when everything collapses — children are hit the hardest. This is particularly true in Lebanon, where the proportion of children sent to work has rapidly increased, according to the same UNICEF report. We are no longer seeing signs of terrible things to come: Starvation and misery have already taken hold.
The smugglers and other bandits are, in fact, no different to Hezbollah. They are all using despair and lost hope for their own benefit. There are obvious signs that Lebanon is about to become the new main migration route to the EU. And so, will the current Hezbollah regime weaponize this misery to push for international financial support? It has become a clear tactic to pressure the EU but, up to now, they have not been able to find a solution.
Beyond the geopolitical scenarios, this situation has a personal touch, as I left Lebanon for Cyprus in a smuggled boat as an infant. I can only feel pain for those trying to flee for a better life and despise the people responsible. My late father, Walid Abou Zahr, the owner and publisher of a newspaper, was opposed to the entry of Syrian troops into Beirut. This resulted in several attempts on his life, followed by a ruthless attack on his newspaper’s offices. The building was surrounded by 100 soldiers and tanks from the invading army and its proxies. Shells and machine gun fire hit the building during a 10-hour battle with security guards and four people, including the newspaper’s manager, were killed. Staff ended up fleeing, jumping from one building to another. Despite this attack, which was aimed at shutting down the outlet, and thanks to the solidarity of courageous friends, the newspaper was available on newsstands the following day, bearing a simple title: “We shall not kneel.”
Seven months later and after being chased by Syrian thugs and mercenaries for several days, we were forced into exile. We narrowly escaped by boat from Sidon to Cyprus. On the boat, which got lost at sea, we were without food and clean water for a little more than 30 hours. My father told me that the way he saw me eat the first piece of bread as we arrived on the shores of Cyprus would always be carved in his memory. This incident, which I remember nothing about, has proven to be an effective way for me to justify indulging in good food and hence being (slightly) overweight. It was, sadly for my father, the last time he would see his country. He nevertheless continued his mission by launching a news magazine in Paris.
The attack on the newspaper’s offices was led by As-Sa’iqa, also known as Vanguard for the Popular Liberation War — Lightning Forces, which was a Palestinian Baathist political and military faction created and controlled by Syria. In 1976, it was the Syrian regime and these groups; today it is Iran with Hezbollah. Ever since the civil war started, nothing has changed. It is still the same evil powers that are ruining, terrorizing and using the refugee crisis as a bargaining tool. It is the same axis of evil that threatens and kills not only in Lebanon, but throughout the region.
The capacity that these regimes have to infiltrate and control so-called resistance movements reveals their true intentions. These forces, one after the other, have pushed talent, creativity and loyalty into exile. During the civil war, Lebanese families were still capable of raising a generation of talented entrepreneurs, artists, designers, bankers, writers and more.
The only way to solve this situation is by dealing with the real problem, starting with Hezbollah surrendering its weapons and dismantling all its cells.
Khaled Abou Zahr
Despite the bombs and the armed clashes, the Lebanese family protected the DNA that makes their children fight, no matter the hits. Today, it is terrifying to see that even this hope is not possible. An entire generation is at stake, as UNICEF has warned.
The topics put forward by local politicians to solve the crisis in Lebanon, such as questioning whether the elections will take place, are absolutely futile. An election will not solve the current situation. The only way to solve this situation is by dealing with the real problem, starting with Hezbollah surrendering its weapons and dismantling all its cells. The people of Lebanon must focus on the unique goal of ending the Iranian occupation. There is no doubt that these evil forces have the upper hand and will use the refugees to put even more pressure on the EU and force it to abide by their rules. Yet, there is still hope with solidarity and the Lebanese not giving up on sovereignty, no matter where they are.
- Khaled Abou Zahr